Nearly four years ago I bought my first-ever car.
Her name was Moxie, after the “OXE” on her plate. She was a base-model 2002 Honda Civic with manual everything and a pretty decent stereo that, if you pushed a button, had an LCD display with dolphins and mermaids.
Moxie was clean and pristine under the hood when I bought her, and her very first trip was up to our friends’ cabin in Wyoming – in April- up a long dirt road – and she wasn’t clean anymore under the hood after that. She took us not only to Wyoming, but to California for a wedding planning trip, and to Louisville, KY for the Fourth of July, and to the drive-in. We went into the mountains nearly ever weekend in the summers for hiking trails and in the winters for snowshoeing. We ran errands once a week and she sat in our parking spot behind the house in the alley the rest of the time, which proved to be not especially safe from our idiot neighbor who splashed beige paint all over the place once and got some on her rear end. But it mostly blended in, because she was white, so we didn’t really mind all that much. We got her a FSM decal for the back and it was helpful because you need something to help distinguish your white Honda Civic from every other Honda Civic in a parking lot. And every so often, someone would notice and comment on it.
Moxie took us to California and back several times. We went up into Yellowstone, through Wyoming and Montana; we went to Texas; we even did a two-week road trip in the summer of 2010 that took us through 20 states with stops in 17 of them. Moxie didn’t have AC and so we roasted and sweated our way through everything east of Nebraska, but she got 45 miles to the gallon sometimes and we didn’t have to stop very often for gas, so she was economical and got us where we needed to go without any issues. Once when we were on a weekend trip near Aspen, we had some trouble and thought something was truly wrong with her, but it turned out the floor mat was up underneath the neutral safety switch which kept the car from starting. Most ridiculous (and cheapest to fix) “issue” ever!
We had to replace her alternator twice, the first not long before she moved us to California and the second time after we got here, as the first alternator turned out to be a dud, but that was really the only issue we ever truly had with her. She was reliable, got good gas mileage, and took us where we wanted to go. (In full disclosure, I never did get comfortable driving her, as for a variety of reasons I never practiced driving a manual transmission vehicle enough to feel fully competent.) When we got Moxie her new California plates, I joked that she was incognito as her new plate didn’t say “OXE” but instead had two sixes and two nines; she’d turned into a sexy accountant.
On February 14, at about 6:15 PM, Dan was driving her from work toward a comic book store on the peninsula and a teenage girl who was talking on her cell phone turned left and hit him as he was going through an intersection. He called me shaken but unharmed, and I felt helpless and isolated over 100 miles away with no way to get to him. The car was undriveable and Dan called our insurance company, who had the car towed.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Over the next several days I dealt with the drama of a nonfunctional vehicle damaged by the other driver in an accident that was completely her fault, with my insurance company snotty and hers for some reason unable to call me. Thankfully, they took responsibility for the accident after only brief investigation and authorized a rental car for me at an agency in Santa Rosa. My options (after stating I wanted something small that got good gas mileage), when I went to pick it up, were a Chevy Impala (uh. no.) and a Mitsubishi Eclipse (convertible, small, but OMG the gas gulping). I went with the convertible, if only for the novelty factor, and set about waiting to hear the insurance company’s determination of poor Moxie’s fate. Dan had taken a photo of her with his cell phone before she was towed, and he sent it to me.
She looked like a bear had sat on her.
After spending what seemed like hours going through phone menus and hold muzak, I was finally able to talk to a live person at the insurance company who told me that my car was totaled and told me what they would give me for her. I had a week from that day to find another car before they would cut off the rental car authorization. If all the paperwork were filled out and fedexed overnight, I’d have my check from the company on Monday the 27th and I had the rental until Wednesday the 29th – which really only gave me 2 days to buy a car, had I not thankfully had the funds in my bank account to cover the purchase. I began to look in earnest on Craigslist and at local dealerships, focusing on what mattered most to us: reliability and good gas mileage. What I most hoped to find was a replacement for Moxie; another early-2000s Honda Civic, but I also looked for Toyota Corollas and Nissan Sentras as relatively equivalent. My goal was to stay under the (admittedly generous) amount the insurance company said they’d give me for Moxie so I’d have some left over for paying DMV fees, etc. Because the car was totaled, I had to contact the tow yard where the insurance company had had it towed to arrange to get all our stuff out of Moxie because, as they told me on the phone, it was “the final resting place of the vehicle.” I cried when I hung up the phone.
I found a 2001 Honda Civic on Craigslist with all the bells and whistles Moxie was missing and contacted the private seller. Dan went to have a look at the car after work Thursday the 23rd and was happy with it, but I decided to check CarFax Friday morning before driving down to look at it and was so glad I did because hoo boy did that car have an awful lot going on that the seller hadn’t disclosed. I felt like we’d dodged a bullet and called the seller to cancel plans. While I was on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge on my way to Bay Point, aka BFE where Moxie was installed in her vehicle grave, Dan called to tell me that after six months of working there and after weeks of being told he was getting an offer letter “any day now,” after jumping through every hoop they asked, his work had “decided not to fund his position.”
It was a bad day.
We’d already started looking at apartments, and so I pulled over and canceled my appointments to look at places in Alameda, then got back on the highway and headed northeast to Bay Point. (Bay Point is really, really far out of the way.) I followed the labyrinth-like directions to get to the tow yard and I sat in the car and I cried and cried. I cried for all the good times we’d had in the car and with the car, and I cried for all the hopes we had built around this job for we’d both sacrificed so much (essentially living apart for six months while I sat isolated up here and Dan couch surfed from friend to family member on a weekly and sometimes daily basis) that all came to nothing, and I cried because after nearly a year and a half we finally thought we’d be able to move and now it wasn’t happening, and in the middle of it all my sister texted me to ask if we’d stay at their place and dog/birdsit when they went to Hawaii in July for a friend’s wedding.
I was still crying some when I went into the office to fill out the paperwork and waited to have them bring the car to an empty part of the yard, so I could pull everything out and into the reusable shopping bags I’d brought. Since Dan had essentially been living out of it for six months, it was full of stuff – shoes and exercise equipment, bedding and clothing. It all barely fit in the tiny trunk of the rental convertible. I left the trash in the car, able to see it as just a thing once I got over the shock of seeing the hood smashed in. They had left Moxie’s California plates on the seat, and I took those, because I didn’t know what else to do with them.
I picked Dan up from work on the day he’d been promised 100% for sure he’d be getting an offer letter and instead been told he would run out of hours after one more day of work, and we both cried. It was a rough day.
The next day, we went to a dealership to test drive a used Hyundai and to test drive a 2005 Nissan Sentra with 76K miles on Craigslist from a private seller. I decided to get the Nissan; it was $800 less than the insurance company’s promised Monday check. I told the seller I’d buy it from her on that Monday in between driving Dan down to work for his last day and picking him up.
The check engine light went on about an hour after I bought the car. Also, the check from the insurance company didn’t show up that day, or the next, or the next. I waited through ridiculous hold music again and ended up resorting to a social media shaming to get them to pay attention. The check showed up on Thursday the 1st which was a day after the rental car authorization was over.
I got a parking ticket in San Francisco two days later when I drove Dan down to a job interview for “not touching turned wheels to the curb on a more than 3% grade” which, WHAT THE EFF? There was no sign and how on earth was I supposed to know about that law, since I’m not a San Francisco resident? (I am fighting the ticket.)
I couldn’t register the car with the DMV and get a new title because I couldn’t smog the car with that light on, and the smog certificate the seller assured me was still valid was too old. I took it into a mechanic I trust who after plugging in to the computer said that the Nissan dealership would have to figure out what the issue was, and to recover the cost of any potential repairs I’d have to resort to suing the seller in small claims court as it’s illegal to sell a car in CA that can’t be smogged.
Thankfully, the part that was causing the problem was covered under a Federal warranty, and so yesterday I was able to get the car smogged and will have a fancy new title in four to six weeks. Here’s hoping the rocky start will prove to be an outlier and the new car will be just as reliable as Moxie always was. She still needs a name and a new FSM decal, and I think once those are in place she’ll really feel like ours. The Nissan dealer said her color is “Cashmere Beige.”
RIP Moxie Crimefighter, 2002-2012. 115K miles.